Obesity in Youth

1062 words | 4 page(s)

People have enjoyed food since the dawn of man. Yet obesity, particularly in youth, is a fairly new epidemic. It is only recently that the term “hunter gatherer” has been used to describe a sport rather than a way of living. Our ancestors originally migrated from a terrain where food had to be collected rather than purchased. Energy tended to be exhausted on gathering food. With the rise of industrial agriculture, food become regularly packaged, distributed and purchased at the convenience of a drive through window. In recent decades, many of the physical activities that occupied the time of our ancestors have been substituted by dormant activities. Adults work at the comfort of an office chair and children tend to spend their free time playing video games. The intent of this paper is to focus on the latter. In particular, the following highlights various studies that illustrate the prevalence of obesity in youth.

It is widely known that obesity in children and adolescents is most prevalent in developed countries, such as America. Prior to a National Survey conducted in 1963, the severity of childhood obesity was scarcely known in the United States. More recent surveys suggests that the body mass index (BMI) of children in the United States was stable between the 1960s to the 1980s, and then exponentially grew in the early 2000s. In an effort to attain better information about the BMI of children in the United States prior to the 1960s, a team of researchers reviewed the BMI of children documented in the Fels Longitudinal Study. The children analyzed in the study were born between 1930 and 1993 and ranged from 3 to 18 years of age.

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The researchers reviewed the BMI of approximately 1,116 participants in the Fels Longitudinal Study located in Dayton, Ohio. Approximately 570 of the participants were boys, 546 were girls. The great majority of the participants were Hispanic. The researchers calculated the BMI of all the children and then divided them into three categories: Obese, overweight and thin.

The results of the study were in accordance to more recent research that suggests obesity in children is a recent phenomenon that began to burgeon in the late 1980s. According to the Fels Longitudinal Study, the pervasiveness of obesity increased from 0 percent to 14 percent among boys and 2 percent to 12 percent among girls. The researchers found that BMI did not begin to considerably increase in participants until the early 1970s. The researchers attest the thinness of the participants in the early 1930s to the scarcity of food during the Great Depression. As the researchers’ state, “The discrepancy between the thinness of boys and girls was greatest among children born at the start of the Great Depression, around 1930, when just 5% of boys but nearly 20% of girls were thin .”

Other research suggests that although the prevalence of obesity in children is beginning to wane, it has yet to reach its twilight. Data indicates that from 2009-2010, an estimated 18.2 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 19 were obese in the United States. Most of the children who qualify as obese attend public schools. In an effort to analyze the BMI of children in public schools, a team of researchers reviewed the BMI of students at the School District of Philadelphia. The study consisted of approximately 200,000 students ranging from kindergarten to 12th grade. The race of the students varied considerably. Approximately 80 percent of the students at the school belonged to a racial minority.

The height and weight of the students was recorded and provided by the school nurse. The researchers defined severe obesity as having a BMI of 35 or higher. The data found that approximately 20.5 percent of the school districts students’ qualified as obese. The researchers also found that obesity tended to be greater in higher graders than lower grades. Obesity rates were higher among students in junior high and high school. Approximately 19.1 percent of students between kindergarten and 8th grade were obese, 23 percent of students between 6th grade and 8th grade were obese, and 20.8 percent of students in high school were obese as well. Among all the racial minorities, Hispanics tended to be the most obese. These statistics are alarming, since they suggest about one-fourth of the population in a major school district is obese. The researchers conclude that although rates of obesity have slightly declined, the pervasiveness of obesity among youth remains unacceptable.

The prevalence of obesity in youth is not bound to high-income countries. In an effort to gain an understanding about the severity of obesity among children living in Bangladesh, a team of researchers conducted a nationwide survey that documented the BMI of students living in both urban and rural areas. The study consisted of 10,135 students between 6 to 15 years of age. There was a sharp divide between students living in urban areas versus students living in rural areas. Approximately 4,765 of the students lived in rural areas and 5,370 of the students lived in urban areas. Within this population, the researchers found that approximately 3.5 percent of students were obese, 9.5 percent were overweight and 17.6 percent were thin . In addition, the research found that boys living in urban areas tended to be significantly heavier than boys living in rural areas. The researchers of the study did not identify the exact cause of obesity among children in urban areas; however, they do suggest that a combination of excessive food consumption and malnourishment may be the culprit.

As has been illustrated, obesity is a problem that effects all ages, from children to adults. There are many factors that contribute to obesity that are contingent upon time and place. In the United States, obesity among youth began to rise after the Great Depression. Yet the prevalence of obese children is not bound to the United States. A significant amount of children in low-income countries, such as Bangladesh, are simultaneously overweight and malnourished. Although rates of obesity have slightly declined, the highlighted studies illustrate that obesity in youth is a pervasive public health problem in need of being remedied.

  • Bulbul, T., & Hoque, M. (2014). Prevalence of childhood obesity and overweight in Bangladesh: findings from a countrywide epidemiological study. BMC Pediatrics , 14-86.
  • Hippel, P., & Nahhas, R. (2013). Extending the History of Child Obesity in the United States: The Fels Longitudinal Study, Birth Years 1930 to 1993. Obesity, 2153-156.
  • Robbins, J., Mallya, B., Polansky, M., & Schwarz, D. (2012). Prevalence, Disparities, and Trends in Obesity and Severe Obesity Among Students in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, School District, 2006–2010. Preventable Chronic Disease.

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